I love Bollywood. And I love Hindi music. But I’m not a fan of “American Idol.” So when presented with a film that melds all three together, needless to say I was a tad bit skeptical. The idea alone could have been a disaster, filled with overtly obvious pokes at Simon Cowell’s sinister voting behaviors and the tiresome tribulations of talentless nobodies trying to make it to the top. Lucky for us, however, in the hands of director Manish Acharya, this is not the case.
Presented in the vein of a Christopher Guest-style mockumentary, “Loins of Punjab Presents” tells the story of several strangers competing in a Hindi singing contest for a coveted grand prize of $25,000 and perhaps the chance to appear in a big Bollywood production. The usual assortment of quirky characters are all here: a vulgar and naive bhangra rapper, an actress who “aspires to be Indian,” and a teenage prodigy controlled by her over-enthusiastic family, just to name a few. The plot is very familiar territory, everyone has something to gain and lose, but a talented cast and a truly hilarious script keep it from staying familiar for too long.
First and foremost, this movie is really funny. I laughed hard, and often, which isn’t an easy feat to accomplish. Indian culture is lampooned viciously, and yet inoffensively all throughout the film, and it never gets old. Not every joke lands perfectly, and some punchlines can be seen coming a mile away, but they can’t all be winners, can they? Everyone is a caricature of an American-Hindi you’ve probably met at some point, which makes the jokes that much funnier.
The film takes a risky turn, however, by tackling racism in several forms. In any other context, this would have ruined the movie completely, but Acharya handles it very well, not being too preachy but also not keeping it too subtle. In particular is the interracial relationship between hopeful Josh Cohen and his supportive Hindi girlfriend, who face scrutiny from contestants and audience members alike. It takes a toll on their relationship, in a very real way, which is why the subplot works. It’s taken seriously, as it should be, but doesn’t distract from the main attraction of the film. Normally I’m not impressed by directors’ trying to send a message about racism where it doesn’t belong, but Acharya pulled it off in spades.
Now, this movie isn’t perfect. As I said before, the plot isn’t the most original, and the style of the film is a bit disjointed. Halfway through it seems the mockumentary style is abandoned and shifted into true movie form without warning. Not every actor pulls out a great performance, and some characters are too cartoonish, but then again, it is a comedy.
All in all, this is a fun movie, particularly for those who enjoy Bollywood and Hindi music. If you have a chance to see it, by all means do so.